Fourth of July Firework Frenzy

Bottle rockets, Saturn missiles, firecrackers– oh my! The time has come again to celebrate all things good in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. That means summer barbecues, good company, picnics by the lake and parades. Oh, and how could we forget the fireworks? A Fourth of July celebration is never complete without fireworks.

So, what kinds of fireworks are there? How does one pick out the best combination of fireworks for a show? Who can buy them? Valley did some digging to find out.


Novelties are the most minuscule type of firework. Sparklers, snappers and small items aimed more for kids fall into this category. Novelty fireworks don’t go in the air, but rather spark or smoke on the ground. Fountains are another type of novelty, just a notch higher on the intensity scale. Fountains aren’t loud and emit showers of sparks for about thirty seconds. The sparks can go up to a few feet in the air, but the fountain itself remains grounded.

Bottle Rockets & Saturn Missiles

These two types of fireworks are similar. When their fuses are lit, they shoot into the sky and pop with a small flash at the end. They are fun to use if you want to switch up the momentum of a fireworks show from large bursts to small flashes.


These fan favorites go way back. When you light a firecracker, you typically set it on the ground, light the fuse and back up a safe distance away. After all, we don’t need any fingers getting the raw end of a deal during a fun-filled weekend. A loud boom and a spark is what you get out of a firecracker. Just a tip: Don’t walk into a firework store asking for a quarter stick (a firecracker on steroids). They are illegal and have been since the 70s.

Multi-Shot Cakes

Cake, cake, cake and not the birthday kind. Multi-shot cakes are composed of small aerial tubes packed together and connected by one fuse. These cakes come in different shapes and sizes. Depending on how many tubes are in the cake, a different number of shots will explode. If there are 12 tubes, it is a 12-shot cake. Most multi-shot cakes go about 50-75 feet in the air.

500 Gram Cakes

Now we’re getting into some serious business. 500 gram cakes are the same concept as the multi-shot cakes, except 500 gram cakes are much larger. 500 gram cakes can shoot 100-300 feet in the air or higher. A 500 gram cake has many effects; crackling, brocade, palm, dahlia, willow…the list goes on and on. These types of effects make the crowd “ooh” and “ahh” when they burst in the night sky.

Mortars and Artillery Shells

Mortars and artillery shells are great to pair with a 500 gram cake for a grand finale. If you’re looking for the loudest firework, you will find it in the mortar section. The mortar is propelled into the air and bursts at the top of its climb. Mortar kits come with various effects and colors, the most popular being the willow.

All of this firework talk may have you spinning in circles, so Valley talked to an expert. Jerry Mess, owner of Mess’s Fireworks in Great Bend, Pennsylvania, has been in the fireworks business long enough to know a thing or two. Before he owned a business, Mess would make fireworks as a hobby. “I actually sold and made money off them around 12 years old,” Mess says.

What urged him to pursue a business in fireworks was a negative experience he had had in a local firework store. “I went into this firework store and was appalled by the ignorant, rude way I was treated,” Mess says.

He took this bad experience and flipped it into a learning lesson. He was determined to sell fireworks and treat people nicely, all while applying his college degree and love for marketing.

When asked what his best tips were for a spectacular fireworks show, Mess responded with note-worthy advice. Dead time, or inactivity in the show for a long time is not good. “You have to keep it active, use unique effects, and keep it simple and enjoyable,” Mess says.

“For the finale, blow everyone away with it…don’t skimp, make it loud, symmetrical, colorful, and did I say loud?” Mess says.

Who can buy fireworks, anyways? Sorry PA peeps, but if you don’t have a permit, a Pennsylvania resident is not allowed to buy anything but the novelties and fountains. Anyone out of state (New York, California, etc.) can purchase any firework as long as they’re 18 or older.

So there you have it! By now you’re a pyro-pro– just in time for you to go out and purchase some for the summer. Go fo(u)rth and celebrate safely!